Yuck, You Suck! Poems About Animals That Sip, Slurp Suck by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Eugenia Nobati

Published by Millbrook Press

Summary:  Thirteen animals are profiled in this poetry collection, from the tiny mosquito to the elephant.  Some animals, like the vampire bat, have a reputation for sucking but actually lap up blood from the animals they bite (is that better?).  The first poem introduces the concept of sucking, and the final one connects the animals to humans, who start their lives sucking milk.  Includes additional information about animals that suck, a list of additional resources, anatomical terms for body parts that suck, a glossary, and a bit more information on each animal.  32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  From the team that brought you Eek, You Reek! (about stinky animals) comes a book that is sure to catch the eye of many elementary students.  Most of the poems have catchy rhymes (although there’s a haiku thrown in, for the honeybee), and kids will get a kick out of the bug-eyed creatures in the illustrations.

Cons:  There’s a certain bloody gross-out factor inherent in the subject matter. You may not want to read this book before sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner and perhaps not too soon after either.

Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Modern Retelling of the Classic Spiritual by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Carole Boston Weatherford has created new words based on the traditional spiritual to trace the history of Black people in America.  Beginning with slavery, the verses and illustrations continue through Emancipation, the Great Migration, and the fights for integration.  The last few pages reflect the recent past and present: Florence Griffith Joyner, Colin, Kaepernick, and the Black Lives Matter Movement.  Includes additional information on each of the subjects, a list of online resources, and an author’s note.  32 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Another beautiful resource for teaching Black history, with gorgeous thought-provoking oil illustrations.  The text, including the back matter, could serve as an excellent introduction to a variety of topics; readers can use the excellent list of online resources for further research.

Cons:  I wasn’t familiar with this spiritual and would have liked to have had the traditional words included somewhere.

Maya’s Song by Renée Watson, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Published by HarperCollins

Summary:  Maya Angelou’s story is told in a collection of free verse poems, illustrated with watercolor and collage illustrations.  The story begins with her birth in 1928 and continues through her childhood spent in California, Arkansas, and Missouri, where “her mother’s boyfriend hurt her body, hurt her soul,” leading Maya to stop speaking for five years.  Her love of poetry helped her to recover her voice, and she went on to become a singer and then a poet, befriending James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X.  Her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings brought her to national prominence; the story ends with her reading a poem at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration, fulfilling her grandmother’s prophecy that she would be a preacher and a teacher.  Includes a timeline and notes from the author and illustrator.  48 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  This amazing poetry biography is sure to be considered for multiple awards for both the writing and the illustrations.  I was immediately drawn into Maya Angelou’s story; Renée Watson is a masterful poet who tells the most difficult aspects of that story in a way that can be shared with young children.  The illustrations are gorgeous, layered with colors and patterns.

Cons:  No additional resources are given.

Out of this World: Star-Studded Haiku by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Matthew Trueman

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  This collection of haiku looks at different aspects of the universe including constellations, astronomers, stars, the sun, all the planets (even Pluto!), moons, comets, and asteroids.  Each poem is supported with mixed media art to show various spacescapes.  Includes additional information for each section, a glossary, a reading list, and a list of online resources.  48 pages; grades 2-6.  

Pros:  This book will appeal to many different types of readers: poets (a great intro to haiku), scientists, and artists.  The illustrations are awe-inspiring and will fire up kids’ imaginations about the wonders of space.

Cons:  I wish someone had come up with a slightly more imaginative title than the hackneyed “Out of This World”.

Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler by Ibi Zoboi

Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers

Summary:  This biography of science fiction writer Octavia Butler is told through a collection of poetry, photographs, and quotations from Butler.  Starting with her early life as a solitary child growing up in 1950’s Pasadena, readers get to see how Octavia’s struggles in school, her introverted nature, and her love of books combined to lead to her a life as a writer.  She was fascinated by science fiction, although almost all of the writers and heroes of the stories were white men.  After years of rejection, she finally began selling her stories and eventually wrote books that earned her Nebula and Hugo awards as well as a MacArthur fellowship.  Includes a final chapter on Ibi Zoboi’s connection to Octavia Butler (they shared a birthday and met in person several times, including a science fiction writing workshop) and a list of Butler’s books.  128 pages; grades 7-12.

Pros:  This unique biography is a pretty quick read but gives an intimate look at Octavia Butler’s life and writing.  Readers who are not familiar with Butler’s work (like me) may be motivated to seek it out after getting this introduction.

Cons:  I saw some recommendations for this book starting in fifth grade, but I think it would be better appreciated by middle school and high school students, since Butler’s books are for young adults and adults.

Because of You, John Lewis: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Keith Henry Brown

Published by Scholastic Press

Summary:  Tybre Faw grew up learning Black history and was particularly inspired by John Lewis.  In 2018, at the age of ten, he convinced his grandmothers to take him to Selma to be part of the commemoration of 1965’s Bloody Sunday.  Tybre met John on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the two became friends.  They walked together again in 2019 and in 2020 when John Lewis had been diagnosed with cancer.  Lewis died a few months later, and Tybre was invited to recite one of the senator’s favorite poems, “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley at the memorial service.  Includes additional information about both John Lewis and Tybre Faw, a timeline of Lewis’s life, a list of sources and resources for further reading, photos from both the 1960’s and the interactions between John and Tybre, and the text of “Invictus”.  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  I marvel at the way this book is written, using beautiful poetry and watercolor illustrations to weave together the lives of both John Lewis and Tyre Faw, and showing the intersection between the civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements.  The back matter adds a lot and gives resources for further exploration.

Cons:  I found it a little difficult to figure out when and at what age Tybre met John; it would have been helpful to me to have those dates included in the timeline.


Free At Last: A Juneteenth Poem written by Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, illustrated by Alex Bostic

Published by Union Square Kids

Summary:  This free verse poem begins with the news arriving in Galveston, Texas: the war is over, and “all who live in bondage here shall from now until be free.”  The words and oil paintings depict Black people’s reactions.  Some head for their shacks, which they now declare home; some go to another farm to work “for a pittance and a little plot of space.”  Others pray, dance, or head farther away.  The last few pages depict their descendants celebrating that freedom, right up to the present day.  An author’s note tells how she was introduced to Juneteenth in the 1980’s and wrote this poem, originally published in 2004, and how Juneteenth has gained wider recognition, eventually becoming a national holiday in 2021.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  The beautiful words and pictures in this book make it an excellent addition to Juneteenth literature, and a perfect way to observe the holiday.

Cons:  It would have been interesting to get more information about the fate of the different people portrayed in the book, and how their decisions to stay close to home or travel affected their futures.

Marshmallow Clouds: Two Poets at Play Among Figures of Speech by Ted Kooser and Connie Wanek illustrated by Richard Jones

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  This poetry collection kicks off with “A Disappointment” in which the speaker sees a tree clowning on one leg and spinning a pie until a friend informs them that it’s just an old squirrel’s nest.  From there, the 27 poems are divided into four sections: Air, Earth, Fire, and Water, and imagination is allowed to reign freely.  The poems are written in free verse, many just a single verse, and are illustrated with beautiful somewhat abstract paintings of nature.  Includes an afterword with messages from both poets inviting readers to let their imaginations run wild.  72 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  These poems written by former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser and acclaimed poet Connie Wanek are simple but beautiful in their use of imagery and metaphors that kids will relate to.  They’re short enough for elementary kids to be able to read and analyze them, yet rich enough to be used in classrooms into high school.  This book has gotten six starred reviews and was included on Betsy Bird’s spring Newbery predictions list, so look for it to get some awards consideration.

Cons:  I wish there had been some information about how the two poets worked together.

Serengeti: Plains of Grass by Leslie Bulion, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander

Published by Peachtree Publishing Company

Summary:  Each two-page spread depicts a scene from the Serengeti, with a four-line poem and a paragraph of additional information.  An introductory page describes the ecosystem of the Serengeti, and a note at the end gives additional information about the poetic form, which is derived from an East African form called the utendi.  Also includes a glossary, a reading list, and information on Serengeti stewardship, including three organizations that are working to preserve the Serengeti.  48 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  A beautiful science and poetry book, with gorgeous paintings of the Serengeti that will catch the eye of any animal lover.  The additional information about the poems and the Serengeti makes this an excellent resource for language arts, geography, and science.

Cons:  I wish there had been some information about the humans who live in that area.

Dog Says, Cat Says by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez

Published by Dial Books

Summary:  In rhyming text, a dog and cat alternate talking to their owners throughout the day: “It’s morning! Do you have to go? I’m bringing you my ball/It’s morning? Well, your bed’s so soft, I may not move at all.”  The dog enthusiastically leaps into all things dog-gy: barking at the mailman, playing fetch, and rolling in the mud, while the cat perfects the art of standoffishness and showing superiority to the dog.  When nighttime comes, the dog is ready to settle down in his bed, while the cat prowls through the house, then finally snuggles in with the dog.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun book for pet lovers that reminded me of Elisha Cooper’s Yes and No, with the dog and cat leading very different lives but coming together as night falls.  The bouncy rhymes and illustrations capture both the high energy of the dog and cat’s more languid nature.

Cons:  Failed to change my opinion that dogs make superior pets.